It is true that violence is no occasional guest in Kashmir. Yet, even by its terrible standards, the lynching of police officer Mohammad Ayub Pandit in Srinagar’s Jama Masjid is a horrific new low. The deputy superintendent of police, who was on security duty at the mosque on the packed special night of Shab-e-Qadr prayers, was stoned and beaten to death, and his clothes torn off his body. He died on the spot. Two people have been arrested so far.
To say that it has been a difficult year for policemen in Jammu & Kashmir would be an understatement. Since July 2017, several policemen have been killed in the violence in the Valley. The last incident took place just last week, when a party of six policemen was killed in militant fire on their unprotected vehicle. Unlike with soldiers, the targeting of policemen by militants is almost personal — nearly all are from the Valley. With their local links, intelligence gathering by the police is far superior to that of the military. In his last video, slain Hizb-ul-Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani had justified killing policemen, saying “though they are our own, they force us to act against them”. That hundreds of Kashmiris still line up to join the police force, seeing in the job an honourable future for themselves, speaks to the complex and differing realities of the troubled Valley.
There is a difference between the killing of a policeman at the hands of a militant and by a civilian mob. That a crowd of apparent worshippers was able to kill a person inside a mosque during the holy month speaks of a breakdown of the moral compass, apart from being a grave indictment of the BJP-PDP government that is failing to live up to the hopes that it had raised when it came to power in the state. There can be no whataboutery about a lynching. The mob inside Jamia Masjid killed a policeman, but something else too died with him in Kashmir. All those who have stakes in the future of the state need to pause and reflect on the way forward from here.